What Is Ham Radio?

Copyright © 2002, 2014 by Blaine S Nay (NL7EL), Cedar City, Utah, USA
FCC Amateur Extra Class Licensee, Licensed Since 1963
Previous calls: WN7FTQ, WA7JJQ, N5DBF, WD4SLF
Life member, ARRL; ARRL VE; 10-10: 58011

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Serving the online community since 1992

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Hams in Action

A retired military officer in North Carolina makes friends over the radio with a ham in Lithuania. An Ohio teenager uses her computer to upload a chess move to an orbiting space satellite, where it's retrieved by a fellow chess enthusiast in Japan. An aircraft engineer in Florida participating in a "DX contest" swaps call signs with hams in 100 countries in a weekend. In California, volunteers save lives as part of their involvement in an emergency communications net. And at the scene of a traffic accident on a Chicago freeway, a ham calls for help by using a pocket-sized hand-held radio.

This unique mix of fun, public service and convenience is the distinguishing characteristic of the hobby called Amateur Radio. Although hams get involved in Amateur Radio for many reasons, they all have in common a basic knowledge of radio technology, regulations and operating principles, demonstrated by passing an examination for a license to operate on radio frequencies known as the "Amateur Bands." These frequencies are reserved by the Federal Communications Commission for use by hams at intervals from just above the AM broadcast band all the way up into extremely high microwave frequencies.

What is the "Typical Ham"?

Amateur radio operators come from all walks of life -- movie stars, missionaries, doctors, students, politicians, truck drivers and just plain folks. They are all ages, sexes, income levels and nationalities. But whether they prefer Morse Code on an old brass telegraph key through a low power transmitter, voice communication on a hand-held radio or computer messages transmitted through satellites, they all have an interest in what's happening in the world, and they use radio to reach out.

What's The Appeal Of Ham Radio?

Some hams are attracted by the ability to communicate across the country, around the globe, even with astronauts on space missions. Others build and experiment with electronics. Computer hobbyists find packet radio to be a low-cost way to expand their ability to communicate. Those with a competitive streak enjoy DX contests, where the object is to see how many distant locations they can contact. Some like the convenience of a technology that gives them portable communication. Others use it to open the door to new friendships over the air or through participation in one of more than 2000 Amateur Radio clubs throughout the country.

A Proud History

Nobody knows when Amateur Radio operators were first called "hams," but we do know that Amateur Radio is as old as the history of radio itself. Not long after Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian experimenter, transmitted the Morse Code letter "s" from Newfoundland to England in 1901, amateur experimenters throughout the world were trying out the capabilities of the first "spark gap" transmitters. In 1912 Congress passed the first laws regulating radio transmissions in the U.S. By 1914, Amateur experimenters were communicating nation-wide, and setting up a system to relay messages from coast to coast (whence the name American Radio Relay League). In 1927, the FCC was created by Congress and specific frequencies were assigned for various uses, including ham bands.

Hams Need Licenses?

Although the main purpose of Amateur Radio is fun, it is called the "Amateur Radio Service" because it also has a serious face. The FCC created this "Service" to fill the need for a pool of experts who could provide backup emergency communications. In addition, the FCC acknowledged the ability of the hobby to advance the communication and technical skills of radio, and to enhance international goodwill. This philosophy has paid off. Countless lives have been saved where skilled hobbyists act as emergency communicators to render aid, whether it's an earthquake in Italy, a flood in India or a hurricane in the U.S.

Which License Is For Me?

Over the years, five basic license classes have evolved. The higher the class license you have, the more privileges and modes of operation you get. But each higher class license requires progressively more knowledge of technology, rules and regulations, as well as higher Morse Code proficiency. So, you can learn the basics or you can become an expert and still enjoy the hobby.

Technician Class License - Hams enter the hobby as Technicians by passing a 35-question multiple-choice examination. No Morse code test is required. The exam covers basic regulations, operating practices, and electronics theory, with a focus on VHF and UHF applications. Technician Class operators are authorized to use all amateur VHF and UHF frequencies (all frequencies above 50 MHz). Technicians who pass a 5 WPM Morse code examination are entitled to limited power outputs on certain HF frequencies. "Technicians with HF" may operate on the 80, 40, and 15 meter bands using CW, and on the 10 meter band using CW, voice, and digital modes.

General Class License - The General Class is a giant step up in operating privileges. The high-power HF privileges granted to General licensees allow for cross-country and worldwide communication. Some people prefer to earn the General Class license as their first ticket, so they may operate on HF right away. Technicians may upgrade to General Class by passing a 5 WPM Morse code test and a 35-question multiple-choice examination. The written exam covers intermediate regulations, operating practices, and electronics theory, with a focus on HF applications. In addition to the Technician privileges, General Class operators are authorized to operate on any frequency in the 160, 30, 17, 12, and 10 meter bands. They may also use significant segments of the 80, 40, 20, and 15 meter bands.

Extra Class License - The HF bands can be awfully crowded, particularly at the top of the solar cycle. Once one earns HF privileges, one may quickly yearn for more room. The Extra Class license is the answer. General licensees may upgrade to Extra Class by passing a 50-question multiple-choice examination. No further Morse code test is required. In addition to some of the more obscure regulations, the test covers specialized operating practices, advanced electronics theory, and radio equipment design. Frankly, the test is very difficult, but others have passed it, and you can too. Extra Class licensees are authorized to operate on all frequencies allocated to the Amateur Service.

Why Are They Called "Hams?"

Although the origin of the word "ham" is obscure, every ham has his or her own pet theory. One holds that early Amateurs were called hams because they liked to "perform" on the air, as in "hamming it up." Another proposes that the name came from the "ham-fisted" way some early Amateurs handled their code keys. The easiest to accept is that "ham" is a contraction of "Am," as in Amateur. One of the most exotic holds that "ham" is an acronym from the initials of three college students who were among the first Radio Amateurs.

What Are The Amateur Radio Bands?

Look at the dial on any AM radio and you'll see frequencies marked from 535 to 1605 kilohertz. Imagine that band extended out many thousands of kilohertz, and you'll have some idea of how much additional radio spectrum is available for amateur, government and commercial radio bands. It is here you'll find aircraft, ship, fire and police communication, as well as the so-called "shortwave" stations, which are worldwide commercial and government broadcast stations from the US and overseas. Amateurs are allocated nine basic "bands" (i.e. groups of frequencies) in the high frequency range between 1.8 and 30 megahertz, and another seven bands in the VHF and UHF ranges. Even though many Amateur Radio conversations may be heard around the world, given the right frequency and propagation conditions, Amateur Radio is basically two-way communication.

Where Do I Get More Information?

The three best ways to learn about Amateur Radio are to listen to hams on the Amateur bands, read about Amateur Radio in the numerous books and magazines devoted to the subject and, best of all, talk to hams face-to- face. You might consider coming to a ham club meeting meeting to meet some friendly hams! Hams take pride in their ability to "Elmer" (teach) newcomers the ropes to get them started in the hobby.

Definitions



Ham Radio Links

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Callbook CallSignWear
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Circuit Archive: Manuals for Vintage Ham Radios Contest Calendar (ARRL)
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DX Engineering DX Notebook
EchoLink  
eHam Equipment Reviews Elecraft Transceiver Kits
Electronic Radio Magazine Elmendorf Amateur Radio Society
Emergency Backup Power eQSL
EZ-PSK USB Soundcard-Radio Interface Fair Radio Supply
FCC Licensed Amateur Radio Stations in Cedar City, Utah FCC Universal Licensing System
FEMA Independent Study Program FlexRadio 
  Fox Hunting
GigaParts Online Ham Radio Superstore Go-Kits
Greater Los Angeles Amateur Radio Group Ham City
Ham Mailinglists@qth.net Hammarlund Historian
Hampedia: Encyclopedia of Ham Radio Equipment Ham Radio and RVs
Ham Radio Checklist from W3BE Ham Radio Manuals
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Ham Radio Online License Course Ham Radio Outlet
Ham Radio Projects Ham Radio - RV Links
Ham Radio Secrets HamStuff by W7NN
Hamtronics Ham Websites @ qth.com
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Heath SB1400 Transceiver Icom
Introduction to Packet Radio Introduction to Packet Radio (Handout)
IRLP (Internet Radio Linking Project) Islands On The Air
Jameco Jim Hawkins' Radio Room
Jun's Electronics Kanga Ham Kits
KD4SAI Radio Mods Kenwood
License Renewal Through W4VEC/HamCall Main Trading Company

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N6FN Nifty Ham Accessories North Kitsap (WA) ARC
Nostalgic Kit Central Nuts & Volts Magazine
OZ2AEP Transceiver Mods PacketRadio.com
PC Monitors Vintage Manuals  Pico Technologies PC-Based Oscilloscopes
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QSL Corner RACES
RACES (Utah) Radio Merit Badge, Brian, AE9K
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Ramsey Kits Regulations Covering Amateur Radio (Part 97)
Regulations Covering Amateur Radio (Part 97) Renew your Ham License Through W4VEC/HamCall
R & L Electronics Schematics of Popular Ham Radios
SGC SignaLink Soundcard-Radio Interface
Sinbad Desert Amateur Radio Club SM3CER Contest Service
Software for Hams South Central Amateur Radio Club
Surplus Sales of Nebraska Ten-Ten
Texas Towers Online Ham Radio Store Tri-Cities ARC
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Varmint Al's Ham Radio Page Vectronics Kits
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W7FG Vintage Manuals W7YEN's Amateur Radio Helpers
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Emergency Communications Links

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WB6FZH Go-Kit Page Williamson County (Texas) Amateur Radio Emergency Service

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Emergency Communications Tips

Make laminated reduced-size photocopies of your certificates from the Emergency Management Institute. Carry them in one of those neat neck lanyards available from the ARRL. Add a simple plastic ID carrier, available at any office or department store, and you have what is needed to prove compliance of any number of courses or classes. I carry my ARRL orange call sign badge, along with my ARES ID card, Red Cross First Aid and CPR cards, and the reduced size FEMA certificates IS-100, IS-200, IS-700. With three plastic ID pockets and the call sign badge, it makes a neat and professional looking arrangement. -- Jerry Palmer, N3KRX, Houston, Delaware

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Yaesu Tech Support Experience

In November, 2007, my nearly new Yaesu ATAS-120A mobile antenna snapped about 2-1/2" above the base at normal highway speed.

My initial communication attempts were via a contact form on Yaesu's website. No response. I then called Yaesu Tech Support who told me to send the antenna in for warranty repair. I did so, including purchase receipt and a detailed letter on what happened. I included my name, address, phone, email, etc.

They promptly lost the letter yet somehow still knew my name. Consequently, they had no way to contact me other than search for me on the Internet! Without the letter, they didn't know it was warranty work and wanted payment before they'd do the repair. They called the phone number they found on the Internet. Unfortunately, that was my home phone and I was away on business. Had they called me on the cell phone I gave in my letter, everything might have turned out okay. Instead, they returned the broken antenna without repair AND without the whip!

When I got home from my trip, I found the un-repaired antenna waiting. I called Yaesu and ultimately spoke to a supervisor (Scot). Everyone consistently denied they screwed up. In my conversation with Scott, he gave contradictory information on how his shop handled and inventoried my antenna. For example, to justify the missing whip, he claimed initially that they returned the un-repaired antenna in the same box exactly as I packed it. When I replied that the packing material was not the same as what I used and that the box had no evidence of my old shipping label, Scot changed his story to having used new shipping materials. I finally got Scot to agree to reimburse my shipping cost for a second mailing and put it in the mail again with a new letter. I included copies of the previous letter and receipt. Because they bungled this repair, I asked that my warranty be extended to compensate for lack of use of the antenna. And, I asked for a replacement whip.

Today (20 Dec 2007), I got an antenna which appears to have been repaired. Unfortunately, can't test it because they still did not return or replace my whip!

I called Yaesu again and again wound up speaking to Scot. He assured me that his technician attached the whip to the mast with two rubber bands. I confirmed that I do indeed have two very nice rubber bands on the mast -- but NO WHIP on the mast, in the box, or in the packing material! Yaesu tech support department clearly has some horrible housekeeping and accountability problems.

I am disappointed by the simple fact that a $300 mobile antenna is so flimsy that the tuning motor would stall under normal use and that the antenna would break merely by being subjected to normal driving conditions.

Oh, yeah, Scot didn't refund my shipping cost as promised either. And, no extension of my warranty to compensate me for non-availability of my antenna for 2 months to to their ineptness.

I simply cannot recommend Yaesu products or service to anyone whom I respect. In fact, my recommendation from this date forward will be to avoid Yaesu altogether.

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Antennas

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J-Pole Antenna For 146 MHz J-Pole Antenna For 440 MHz
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Super Antennas MP-1 Portable Vertical Multiband Antenna Super Antennas MP-1 Antenna Review

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The Ionosphere and What to Do With It (Humor)

W3FF Portable Dipole Yaesu Tech Support

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Ham Software

ACLog Electronic Ham Radio Log Book DX4 Ham Log Software
DXbase Ham Logging Software DXtreme Logging Software
DXZone Software Links for Hams EasyLog
EQF Ham Radio Software FT-60 Commander
G4HFQ Radio Control Software Ham Radio Deluxe Transceiver-Control Software
HyperLog LOGic Ham Radio Software Package
MobileLog Ham Radio Logbook for PocketPC N0HR Ham Radio Software for PocketPC
QRZ Ham Radio Shareware and Information Files Radio Control Software
RT Systems (CAT / Radio Programming Software) SuperControl Rig Control Software
XMLog Yahoo! Groups: HamPocket Logbook Forum

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Great Deals @ Geeks.com!

Fox-Hunting / Direction Finding

All About Radio Direction Finding Byonics Electronic Projects for Amateur Radio
Equipment to Build FoxFinder
FoxFinder Fox Hunt Webring
HandiFinder HandiFinder
HandiFinder HandiFinder
Homing-Type DF Antenna Units Indestructible Attenuator
N6QAB Radio Direction Finding Web Site Pot Attenuators
PVC and Wire 440Mhz Beam Radio Direction-Finding
Ramsey Doppler Direction Finder Kit Ramsey Electronics Direction Finder Design Fixes
Ramsey Foxhound Direction Finder Kit RF Sniffer with Tone Output
SuperDF Three-Element Yagi for DFing
Transmitter Hunting Equipment Transmitter Hunting: Radio Direction Finding Simplified
VK3YNG Foxhunting Equipment VK3YNG Foxhunt Sniffer

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Ham Radio Quotes

Electricity is really just organized lightning. — George Carlin

The Electronic Hole Theory Disproved: Have you ever been confused by the Electronic Hole Theory of Semiconductor physics? After a careful study of the illusory phenomenon of electron flow, I have come to realize that the hole theory may not be correct. The following theory, has been proven time and time again in service shops all across the country. All electronic devices, especially ICs work on smoke. Manufacturers of all electronic devices, including IC makers, encapsulate a certain amount of black smoke in every one of their devices. This smoke is what does the work and performs the magic of electron flow inside the device. You may have noticed that a component will quit working when this encapsulated smoke leaks out. I have documented this many times and it conclusively proves my theory. After all, when a storm comes up, the sky gets black, the lightning starts to flash through the black clouds, which must be smoke. When the sky clears and is no longer black the lightning stops! Therefore, smoke is the answer to electron flow. Have you ever been able to operate an electronic component after the smoke leaked out? I rest my case. — Author Unknown

You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat. — Albert Einstien

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